The Bandleader's Changing Birthdate

Earlier this week I received an email message from one of Jan Savitt’s children, Devi, asking for advice on how to research Jan’s Savitt’s family history.  We’ve exchanged a few messages this week so I could find out what was already known about the family and what Devi wanted to discover.  Well, the problem is so interesting that I couldn’t resist conducting some research of my own.  Sometimes I think my interest in genealogy is a curse – I can’t resist a good genealogical problem!

Devi’s father is Jan Savitt, a famous bandleader from the 1930’s and 1940’s who died suddenly in 1948 of a cerebral hemorrage while on his way to a gig in Sacramento.  Searching the internet for “Jan Savitt” produces lots of hits, many of which are links to CDs of his bands.  Several other internet records are brief biographies of the Jan.

Online biographies usually list Jan’s birthdate as September 4, 1913 in Petrograd, Russia, and describe his father as a drummer in the Imperial Regiment Band of Tsar Nicholas II.  The biographies variously state that he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1914 when he was 15.  The biographies state that he was invited to join the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra when he was 15, studied at the Curtis Institute and in Europe, formed a string quartet in 1936, formed his band “The Top Hatters” in 1937, and began touring in 1938.  He died on October 4, 1948.

So, how much of all this is true?  To start, if he was born in 1913, he couldn’t have immigrated in 1914 at the age of 15.  To be fair, most online biographies acknowledge that Jan’s birthdate is in dispute.

Devi provided me with some information about her father, her uncles, and her grandparents, and armed with that information, I immediately searched the census records to see if I could confirm the information in the biographies.

In 1930, Jan was living in Philadelphia with other family members.

1930 Census

1930 Census Record for Joseph Savitt and Family

The 1930 Census states that:

  • In 1930, the family was living at 6221 Pine Street in Philadelphia
  • The head of household was Joseph, age 60, a married white male, born in Russia, working as a motor mechanic in a motor brushes manufacturing company
  • Joseph’s wife was Ida, age 51, a married white female, born in Russia, with no occupation listed
  • Joseph and Ida’s son David was a 29 year old, single white male, born in Russia, working as a salesman in wholesale dresses
  • The couple’s son William was a 26 year old, single white male, born in Russia, working as a salesman in wholesale shoes
  • The couple’s son Jan is listed as Jay Savitt, a 22 year old, single white male, born in Russia, working as a musician in an orchestra
  • Joseph’s nephew David was a 31 year old, single white male, born in Russia, working as a salesman in wholesale shoes
  • All people in the household are listed as naturalized citizens who immigrated in 1910 and spoke Jewish before coming to the United States
  • The family owned their home valued at $5500
  • The family owned a radio
  • None of the family members were veterans

From this record, in 1930 Jan was known as Jay Savitt, was born about 1908, emigrated from Russia in 1911, was Jewish, was single, and was working as a musician in an orchestra.

Click on this link to view a PDF of the 1930 Census record for the Savitt family.

Tomorrow:  What do earlier census records say about this family?

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